09 June, 2015

Back in a sec, just off to the Hebrides

You knew it was coming. A far-flung, people-less part of the UK is beckoning me again. This time I'm heading up the west coast of Scotland to a small croft called Kintra, nestled into the western side of  Mull where I'll spend my time practising organic farming in exchange for food and accommodation, and then in my spare time hike, swim, bird and... you guessed it, moth my way across the island. It's all come about through signing up to the fantastic WWOOF scheme, which you can find out more about here.

I've got a fair bit of land to travel over before I reach the Hebrides and my rucksack is already back-breakingly heavy, so I won't be taking my laptop with me. Unfortunate in that I won't be able to update the blog on a regular basis, although I must admit I'm really looking forward to the lack of screens after spending much of the autumn, winter and spring sat in front of the computer writing essays!

Don't despair though. I'm taking a camera with me, so if I do happen to come across a computer along the tideline, you'll be the first to know how I'm doing. If I can find this weird, magical thing they call 'Wi-Fi', then you also keep up to date with how many Orcas I'm seeing everyday through the medium of my Twitter account.

All that I guess is left is for me and this White-legged Damselfly from Norbury Park yesterday to wish you all a fantastic summer filled with biodiversity.

08 June, 2015

Odds and ends

A couple of interesting bits and bobs from the past week that haven't yet found their way into blog posts.

It's that time of year when the moth-trap is dominated by beetles. Stag Beetles are by far our most impressive garden visitors, whilst Garden Chafers are amongst the smallest.

The Clearwing lures still work - a couple of pristine male Orange-tailed (above) and Yellow-legged (below) Clearwings have been attracted to lures placed in the garden in the past couple of weeks.

Had a great time surveying biodiversity on Oxshott Heath last Saturday with the LNHS crew...

Cydia coniferana

Sundew and Sphagnum moss

Striped Ladybird

Goldon-bloomed Grey Longhorn

07 June, 2015

MVR: Migrants vs Residents

As is so often the case with urban trapping, the first week of June has seen catch rates in the garden really take off after a typically slow spring, but the big difference this year has been the appearance of migrant species amongst all the regular characters. Catching a migrant in the trap is always an exciting event, and Bordered Straws are no exception.

Before this year, I wouldn't have imagined catching even one of these powerful cosmopolitan travellers so far inland, so to have three turn up in the past 14 days alone just shows how this season's migration event is turning out to be quite monumental.

Bordered Straw

As if to cement the above statement, a Painted Lady blasted past the window as I sat down to write this post, and is now feeding on a patch of Red Valerian -  the first here since 10th September 2009!

Painted Lady

Not willing to be out done by the far-flung migrants, the residents have also been on impressive form. Buff-tip, Enarmonia formosana and Treble Brown Spot are always a pleasure to catch if only because of their shear beauty, but the real highlight of late has been this Cream Wave caught on 4th - a rare new addition to the garden list...

Cream Wave

Treble Brown Spot

Buff-tip - best animal camouflage in the UK?

Toadflax Brocade

Enarmonia formosana

Freyer's Pug

05 June, 2015


With yesterday seeing such an impressive turn around in the weather, from 50mph winds down to almost flat calm (emphasis on almost), it seemed only right to head straight for the warm, south facing chalk slopes of Denbies Hillside - a gem of a reserve in the Surrey countryside.

It wasn't so much a trip to find wildlife as more of an opportunity to get out from the indoors and into the sun for the first time in two days, but being chalk downland in the heart of the North Downs, there was plenty of stuff to catch the eye.

Fragrant Orchid

Common Milkwort

Nemapogon wolffiella

Nemapogon cloakella

Cauchas fibulella

Teleiodes sequax - a protective 'case' created by the larva by spinning leaves together

Orchid Beetle

04 June, 2015

Argyresthia trifasciata

Plenty of these can be disturbed off our garden Cypress tree at the moment - the stunning little Argyresthia trifasciata. For someone just starting out (including myself!), the thought of identifying leaf-mines - the distinctive feeding signs left by a caterpillar on vegetation - can be a daunting task.

Indeed, there are many which are extremely similar to each other, require a hell of a lot of searching to find, or just can't be identified at all. Luckily, Argyresthia trifasciata isn't one of them and feeding signs can quite easily be found on the host Cypress by looking for discoloured brown leaves. Opening them up should reveal the feeding chamber which the larva lives in, and also its poo (resembling tiny brown sawdust) - known slightly more scientifically as 'frass'.

02 June, 2015

Weed culture

The lawn hasn't been cut in over a month, and as a result has become awash with colour from the small, unassuming wild flowers that are beginning to appear. Having spent the past couple of months fascinating over the plants that have colonised the alley way adjacent to our student house (here and here), it's been uplifting to witness the pulling power that they have on pollinating invertebrates - a power that is completely destroyed the minute a strimmer goes over them.

In recent years, wildlife has taken a front seat in the conscience of the average middle-class gardener, not least due to greater publicity surrounding the declines of many of our iconic species. Wildflowers which were previously considered to be intrusive garden pests are now seen as important sources of nectar for bees, and more of us than ever are setting aside untamed areas where grass is allowed to grow tall - we're learning to live with nature in urbania.

They're not weeds, they're wildflowers.

Procumbent Yellow-sorrel

Thyme-leaved Speedwell

Lesser Trefoil

Common Mouse-ear

Dove's-foot Cranesbill

Unfortunately, it's a mindset that hasn't quite reached the local council yet - below is the view from the main entrance to Stokes Field the other day. The flattened grass on either side of the dirt path would have been a vibrant mix of Cow Parsley, Wood Avens and Herb Robert a couple of weeks ago. 

Path widening my ass.

30 May, 2015

Brown Argus

The weird singing maverick Willow Warbler was still present at Stokes Field when I visited this afternoon to check up on the local population of Commophila aeneana. Despite being seriously hard to find in the long grass, the moths appear to be doing well and as usual were looking absolutely stunning in the sunshine.

However, the moth found itself overshadowed when something even more fantastic flew past - a Brown Argus! Despite being fairly common in suitable calcareous grassland habitats, this represents only the second record for Stokes Field after one back in 2012. With an array of suitable foodplants around and about to breed on, here's hoping this little gem becomes a more regular sight on the patch.

Brown Argus

Commophila aeneana

27 May, 2015

On the patch

Back out on the patch to see how things are getting on. Bird wise, a Willow Warbler and several Whitethroats appeared to be holding territory, and it's always nice to catch up with the local Bullfinch. Due to its small size and neglected state, Stokes Field can be a little off and on when it comes to spring bird passage - and probably more off than on - but it will take some doing to beat April 2013 when Tree Pipit, Redstart and Red Kite were logged during the duration of the month.

Today's Willow Warbler was interesting in that it was regularly incorporating Chiffchaff notes into its song; albeit at a more erratic and sped up pace than the latter species. A quick Google search found this interesting article on song 'mixing' in Phylloscopus warblers.

Out in the grassland, the stunning Commophila aeneana was flying in the same field as last year in spite of initial worries that trampling by dog walkers over the winter period may have had a detrimental effect on the population. Despite the abundance of the foodplant (Common Ragwort), the moth is very scarcely distributed throughout the county, and currently only known from around ten sites. There were plenty of other insects about to keep me occupied for a good three hours, and it will be interesting to see what else appears there in the next few weeks before I head off to work on a farm on the Isle of Mull for the summer - major bombshell dropped.

Commophila aeneana

Alabonia geoffrella - the moth that gets cooler every time you look at it.

Epiblema costipunctana - a common tortrix on waste ground at this time of year.

Cydia nigricana - lots were flying around the foodplant, Common Vetch.

Red-and-black Froghopper

Xanthogramma pedissequum

25 May, 2015

Hawk-moth duo

Hawk moths of any kind are a rare occurrence in the garden so for two species to arrive last night definitely called for a celebratory blog post! Poplar Hawk-moth is one I've wanted to see for years, so to finally have it turn up in the garden was a pretty special moment.

Hawks are particularly brilliant as they provide an attractive outlet through which to share the magic of moths with family and friends who don't otherwise share quite the same obsessive keen interest as I do. It makes you wonder how much stigma would still surround this group of 'brown clothes-eating' insects if we weren't blessed with such fantastic crowd pleasers such as hawk-moths...

Poplar Hawk-moth

Lime Hawk-moth

It had to be done. 

Migrant fix

If you're linked up in anyway to the moth grapevine (all your mates probably are), you might have heard about the huge influx of migrant insects into Britain that has taken place in the past month. A fantastic array of exotic species which usually reside in southern Europe and Africa are being blown across the English Channel in their thousands, dropping down into moth-traps across the south coast.

Whilst the migrant 'hotspot' areas around Swanage and Portland enjoy scarcities such as Striped Hawk-moths & Golden Twin-spot, us inlanders rarely get a piece of the action. However, with the sheer volume of moths arriving into the country in the past few weeks, all the ingredients are there to make this a fantastic year for migrant species.

Bordered Straw (Heliothis peltigera) have made up the bulk of migrant records so far in 2015, so was always going to be the most likely candidate to turn up in the garden. It was still a welcome surprise when this one landed on the lawn yesterday morning while I photographed the previous night's catch. Amazing to think that this hatched out in southern Europe...

Bordered Straw

Light Brocade - of more local origins!